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Skein of Shadows by The Wandering Men

Posted by Luke Forney on October 3, 2010 at 4:24 AM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: Skein of Shadows was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.


Tie-in fiction for roleplaying games is a subgenre that is really taking off. The RPG Crown: City of the Fallen has gained a following, and has recently joined the ranks of branching out into fiction markets. What is also intriguing is that it takes a method similar to that in George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, that of a mosaic novel. In short, it takes a series of almost standalone stories and weaves its tale in and out of them, creating an overall picture and plot that is more than the sum of its parts.


Authors Nathan Ellsworth, Davis Riddle, Brannon Hall, Corey Blankenship, and Brannon Hollingsworth teamed up to give us a picture of Crown, a city of the edge of the sea, teeming with treachery, violence, and magic. The quintet of authors do a good job of mixing the elements of an RPG into a non-interactive story, minimizing the elements that feel too much like a transcript of an RPG adventure. The story flows together well, each of the stories moving in and out from one another in a way that works wonderfully.


I had no previous knowledge of Crown: City of the Fallen, and I found myself catching onto the world pretty quickly. The magic system seemed a little too oblique to me at first, but it began to make much more sense as the story went on. Different authors seemed to handle it better or worse, some of them making it feel more natural and less charts and numbers than others.


All-in-all, however, Skein of Shadows takes a very interesting approach to the media tie-in, and hits a homerun. The interwoven stories work well, and the overall plot is definitely one worth reading about. This is strongly recommended to fans of Crown: City of the Fallen, as well as those looking for a mash-up of a number of different subgenres, from more action-based fantasy to assassin stories, etc, and who are looking for a tale that shows you the city, not just one person’s view of it.

Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects by Ken Scholes

Posted by Luke Forney on September 26, 2010 at 4:49 PM Comments comments (0)

Note: Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.


Ken Scholes can tell a good story. In his first collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys, he blew me away with his storytelling gusto. He has since gone on to write the very well received Psalms of Isaak series, which began in the novel Lamentation. Fairwood Press and Scholes have teamed up to release a second collection of Scholes’ stories.


Fans of Scholes’ novel series will find a couple pieces of particular interest, as two stories take place in the same setting. Set well before the novels, “A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon” sets up a number of engaging elements that make this a wonderful story, even for those who, like me, haven’t read the series yet. “Of Missing Kings and Backward Dreams and the Honoring of Lies” works as a follow up to “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise” (found in the previous collection, Long Walks, Last Flights). The story is as brilliant as its predecessor, and shows the richness of the world Scholes was creating. Another must read.


Other top stories, in my mind, include “Four Clowns of the Apocalypse and the Mecca of Mirth,” “The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall,” and “There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (A Fortean Love Story).” However, that isn’t to say that any of the stories are lacking. You would be hard pressed to find a non-great story in this volume. Fans of the genre must pick this one up.

Barbarians at the Jumpgate edited by Bruce Gehweiler

Posted by Luke Forney on September 26, 2010 at 4:47 PM Comments comments (1)

Note: Barbarians at the Jumpgate was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Padwolf Publishing.


I’m slowly broadening my military science fiction reading from the big names and Black Library to the small presses. I took a look at the first volume of Dark Quest Books’ Defending the Future series, Breach the Hull, and I wanted to continue on that train of thematic relevance. Thus I picked up a new Padwolf Publishing release, Barbarians at the Jumpgate.


Barbarians at the Jumpgate turned out to be a simply excellent anthology. The theme of alien/human conflict played out wonderfully over the stories told. The stories range from John Sunseri’s “Biological Imperative,” with its wonderfully adaptable aliens, that shows that alien conflict can be just as richly imaginative, to the hilariously intelligent “Furlough,” where Patrick Thomas takes his Murphy’s Lore series into space. Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “Building Blocks” took a sort of Weinbaum-ian look at aliens who are truly alien, in her tale of the slow offensive of an entire planet.


Other top stories include Robert E. Water’s exciting “Pest Control,” “The Hardest Glory” by co-conspirators C. J. Henderson and editor Bruce Gehweiler, the tale of a frontier planet, and “The Levee Song” by Bernie Mojzes, which keeps the mystical, mythical resonances from The Evil Gazebo, but placing them in an all new, science fiction setting.


Overall, there are very few stories in here that won’t grip you. The writers formed action-packed tales that don’t forget about plot, strong characters, and vibrant settings, and give you the feel of the science fiction of before, with a sense of wonder available to those looking for it. A very worth-while collection for all fans of science fiction to pick up.

Mystic Investigators by Patrick Thomas

Posted by Luke Forney on September 21, 2010 at 1:48 AM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: Mystic Investigators was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.


The whole urban fantasy/paranormal mystery scene isn’t one I am too familiar with. I know who Jim Butcher is, and thought about reading some of his books, but never have. Same goes for a couple others. For whatever reason, the genre just doesn’t really appeal to me. However, I’ve read some of Patrick Thomas’ work, and enjoyed it, and fans of his many series characters liked the book, so I gave it a spin.


If this is what the rest of the genre is like, I’m missing out. Thomas presents a collection of stories that is hard to beat. His tale of the Nightcriers (“Night Cries”) was a wonderful mystery of discovering the truth behind the legends, while stories like “A Stitch in Time” really resonated with the pulp-ish feelings. “Put Your Demon on My Shoulder” turned up the humor, yet stories such as “Working Girl” showed a slightly more series side (that still hits at some dark humor). There isn’t a dud to be found in this collection. Beyond the above stories, other standouts include “Tesque, Tesque,” which had a truly rich setting and wonderful main character, “Cardiac Arrest,” featuring Agent Karver of the D.M.A., and “Attack of the Trouser Snake,” featuring the ever-popular Terrorbelle. Those last two are also nice lead-ins to upcoming titles here at Luke Reviews, Fairy With a Gun: The Collected Terrorbelle and Dead to Rights: The D.M.A. Casefiles of Agent Karver.


Many of these stories tread the border between urban fantasy mystery and other genres, making them accessible to a very broad audience, and Thomas’ talent with words makes every story engaging. The characters resonate well, and you won’t be able to stop yourself for looking for other adventures they have. Don’t plan on picking this book up unless you plan on keeping tabs on Thomas’ work from here on out. A gem.

Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny

Posted by Luke Forney on September 13, 2010 at 4:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The “Divided We Stand” storyline which ran through X-Men comics after Messiah CompleX (see Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand and X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands) lead to a new home and a new ideology. The “Manifest Destiny” storyline that ran in all of the books right after set up a new beginning. For the X-Men, we see this in Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny.


A prologue of sorts introduces readers who don’t follow New X-Men to Pixie, who begins to take her place as an X-Man. Then, the main storyline kicks in, with the X-Men now in San Francisco, celebrating their new beginning while struggling against a string of hate crimes against mutants, lead by the Hellfire Cult. Also, we see some short stories that explore a number of X-Men as they deal with Messiah CompleX, Divided We Stand, and Manifest Destiny.


Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny contains: Free Comic Book Day: X-Men 2008 (“Pixies and Demons”), Uncanny X-Men #500, #501 (“All Tomorrow’s Parties”), #502 (“Beginning to See the Light”), #503, and stories from X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1 (“Control”), #2 (“Good With the Bad” and “Flaw”), #3 (“Abomination” and “Uncheerable”), #4 (“Mercury”), #5 (“Dazzler: Solo”).


This volume feels a bit broken up, with a number of shorter, self-contained stories of sorts. Free Comic Book Day: X-Men 2008 gives us a story of Pixie at home in Wales, as she realizes that her town is overrun with demons. It is a fun, fast-paced tale, that does a lot for the character (who otherwise I would stare at incredulously, saying “Pixie?!”).


Uncanny X-Men #500 also feels more at home as a standalone. Gala celebrations, a rather racist art display, and the attack of the first villain the X-Men ever faced cap off the anniversary issue, as well as a subplot involving the High Evolutionary that seems to be a holdover from the last Eternals series, and one that gets no mention later in the volume.


The main story begins in Uncanny X-Men #501, with the X-Men exploring their new lives in San Francisco, and dealing with the Hellfire Cult, a group that is perpetrating hate crime after hate crime against mutants. It is a fast-paced and engaging tale.


This is followed by a string of short stories pulled from the miniseries X-Men: Manifest Destiny. These seemed like an odd inclusion, on some parts. Only some of the stories, not all, were bound into this volume. Others were included in the volume X-Men: Manifest Destiny, which focuses solely on the “Manifest Destiny” miniseries. It seems they should have been collected all together, but so it goes. They were pleasant reads, not much to most of them (the obvious exception being “Abomination,” dealing with one young characters abuse at the hands of his father), but a nice end to the beginning of the X-Men in San Francisco.


In the full view, this was a nice volume, likely a great jumping on point for new readers, and one that gives you a lot of little tidbits instead of one long story.



Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail

Posted by Luke Forney on September 13, 2010 at 4:02 AM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: Breach the Hull was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.


Military science fiction is a passion of mine. However, it seems I am getting it more and more from Warhammer 40,000, and not from much else. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with Warhammer 40,000 (far from it!), just that I would like to see some new settings and new themes in my military SF. So, with that in mind, I picked up a copy of Breach the Hull, the first book in Dark Quest Books’ military science fiction anthology series, Defending the Future.


What I found was a bit hit-or-miss. While I think calling “Cryptic” by Jack McDevitt military science fiction is a bit of a stretch, it slammed a home run to start the proceedings, with a story of wonderful science fiction. It, along with other strong contributions such as Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “In the Dying Light,” packed into the story a wallop of suspense and excitement, not just at the gunfights and violence, but weaving a strong story through the action. The stories worked on their own, not just as a vehicle for the action associated with the genre.


However, other stories seemed to not hit those high notes quite as well, such as editor Mike McPhail’s “Wayward Child,” which felt a bit flat throughout, lacking that engaging sense of suspense that made some of the other stories such winners. I found myself not finishing all of the stories, as the anthology lost momentum, instead skipping around a bit.


Not all is lost, however, with appearances by the brilliant Jack Campbell (under his real name, John G. Hemry), and the ever-popular Patrick Thomas, who has an entry into his 142nd Starborne series. All-in-all, this volume fills out well, not using many big names, but hitting a number of authors with a lot of work out from smaller publishers, and searching for the new breed of story to be found, not in the big publishers, but in the hands of authors and fans of the genre.


This isn’t necessarily the best anthology you will read, but in a subgenre dominated by a few big names, it is nice to see a fresh take at the stories that made the genre exciting to read. And even if they don’t all succeed, they serve as a platform to keep the genre alive.

X-Men: Powerless

Posted by Luke Forney on September 6, 2010 at 5:53 PM Comments comments (0)

Going back a little while, I read the string of issues from late 1999/early 2000 that were being republished, in the volumes X-Men: The Shattering, X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve, and X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse. That segment continues in a brand new volume, X-Men: Powerless.


After the stunning events of The Twelve and Ages of Apocalypse, the team is in shock. Cyclops appears to be dead, Jean Grey leaves the team, and everyone needs a break. The X-Men take a day off, only to receive a most unwelcome visitor, the High Evolutionary, who has drastic news: to save humanity, he has eliminated the ability to use the x-gene, thus turning all mutants into normal humans!


X-Men: Powerless contains: Uncanny X-Men #379 (“What Dreams May Come…”), #380 (“Heaven’s Shadow”), Cable #78 (“I Still Believe I Cannot Be Saved”), X-Force #101 (“Learning to Fly”), Wolverine #149 (“Resurrection”), X-Men #99 (“Oh, the Humanity!”).


One immediate downside: the main storyline is carried just in the X-men books. While Cable, X-Force, and Wolverine deal with the effects of the High Evolutionary’s blocking of mutant abilities, they have no real tie to the main story. Thus, after one chapter to kick off the event and start the main story, we leave that story for half of the book. That jump felt abrupt, and meant going a long time without any real meat to the plot, just more day in the life scenes. Also of note, the issue of Cable was more an epilogue to X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: The Ages of Apocalypse. The Powerless storyline doesn’t arrive until the very last page, in a full page panel. No other attachment. I imagine that these issues were included because, in order of least to most important, A) they do show the effects of the loss of powers, B) it fills out the book to a normal size of six issues, and C) it makes a nice capping point, before the Revolution event and the return of Chris Claremont.


On the plus side, the story is fun. The Cable issue drags a bit, but it was nice to see some closure from The Ages of Apocalypse. X-Force was a nice standalone piece that explored bullying, a common theme for X-Men comics. Wolverine was nothing but a robot slaughter, guest starring the New Warriors (including Nova, who has risen to some prominence lately). Action? Yes. I good story? Any real plot worth following? Not really.


The issues of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men tell the overarching story, and it is one that is much better than the three standalone pieces. The idea of blocking mutants to make everyone human raised questions of making the whole world white to stop racism, or to make everyone heterosexual to stop homophobia. This event made a nice parallel that was also explored in the issues by characters in dialogue. The pace was right, and the story a nice, fun, short one after the epic length and time scale of X-Men vs. Apocalypse.


The X-Men story is a plus, and the other three issues a not-so-much, but all-in-all this was still a fun volume. Consider just reading the X-Men issues. You won’t miss anything important to the story.



The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson - Part 2

Posted by Luke Forney on August 27, 2010 at 3:25 AM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.


It is part 2 of my review of The Collected Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness out from NESFA Press. For those interested in a prelude to the review, as well as the reviews of the stories from the first section, please see Part 1 of this review.


“Brake”: After a spaceship mutiny, the ship’s captain must stop a group of fanatics from either taking over or destroying the ship, and put a stopping block in front of a much larger conspiracy. This story showcases Anderson’s ability to write near-perfect hard science fiction action/adventure stories. Completely wonderful in both its action and its characterization.


“The Burning Bridge”: Another tale of space, this one is a bit quieter, yet with deep ethical considerations, as a ship on the brink of reaching a new world has received a message from their old one saying they can come back home. Another very strong story, this one rooted in character as well as ethical drama that reaches new extremes in the world of space exploration.


“A World Called Maanerek”: A man living on a planet, among a more primitive society, knows that he is not the same as everyone else. However, after a victorious hunt, it takes a UFO to show him just how different he is, and what destiny awaits him. At first, this story felt a little slow, but once I got into it, the plot fell into place beautifully, working in the twists and turns, the losses, and yet creating a satisfying ending. A strong piece.


“The Pirate”: When a less-than-honorable man claims to have come clean, a galactic police force of sorts isn’t quite so sure, and what they find when they begin to dig is far more than anyone expected. Another tautly written story, that unwraps perfectly as you read along.


“To Build a World”: After a disaster on the moon as the terraforming project seems to flounder, a plot begins to unfold that might reveal a conspiracy against making the moon into a new Earth. Another well-thought-out future, with strong characters, and plenty of grey characters, rather than black and white.


“Say It with Flowers”: A fun story of a man who is captured while trying to deliver a message in war time, and how he manages to find a way to get the message out. Flowers is a fun character, and his adventure was quick-paced and engaging.


There are also two essays:


“Science Fiction and Science: The Hardness of Hard Science Fiction”: An interesting look at both the hard science fiction out there, as well as Anderson’s own thought processes as he sets out to create a believable, science-based world.


“Science Fiction and History”: A look at history’s lessons, and what they may mean for the future, and also a critique on both well-envisioned futures and those that skimp on thoughtful analysis. An interesting essay, an intriguing point of view, and well-written. This one would find fans outside of the genre for what it has to say about humanity’s time.


And the following poems: “Jennifer’s Song” and “Veleda Speaks.”


The second part of the collection was simply brilliant. Anderson displays his versatility at writing quieter stories of introspection, and following them up with tales of action and hard science. He displays a knowledge of societal interworkings and thoughtful explorations of science and humanity that make for top notch reading. The more I delve into Anderson’s work, the more I find to like. Truly, he is revealing himself to be a literary and genre treasure, and I cannot wait to finish this collection.

Fear the Alien edited by Christian Dunn

Posted by Luke Forney on August 24, 2010 at 2:35 AM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: Fear the Alien was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by The Black Library.


After another lengthy absence from the world of Warhammer 40,000, I return again, this time with the upcoming anthology Fear the Alien. Prepare yourself for xenos/Empire conflict! The stories are as follows:


“Gardens of Tycho” by Dan Abnett: Abnett delivers a story of Magos Drusher, who teams with the local law to discover what is behind a string of brutal killings. But what seems like random slaughter may have a much darker rationale. This story is wonderful, flat out. The characters feel richly fleshed out, the mystery is genuinely engaging and suspenseful, and the plot is fun. If there are more Magos Drusher stories out there, I will be looking for them.


“Fear Itself” by Juliet E. McKenna: A group of soldiers hold a fort at a key placement protecting a bridge, fighting against wave after endless wave of tryanid, who take biological warfare to an extreme. McKenna’s tale is a blast, with strong action, great characters, and a grasp on conveying prolonged conflict that was truly well done. The ending felt a bit too deus ex machina for my tastes, but it was a small price to pay for an otherwise great story.


“Prometheus Requiem” by Nick Kyme: I have had trouble with other Kyme works (Assault on Black Reach: The Novel comes to mind), so I was leery with this one. And was I ever wrong. Kyme blew me away with this story of a group of Salamanders Space Marines exploring a dead ship with far more darkness inside it than they thought. Suspenseful, with strong characters and excellent action, this story is everything Warhammer 40,000 can be.


“Mistress Baeda’s Gift” by Braden Campbell: A tale of the dark elder, and what happens when they fall in love, this one didn’t work very well for me, falling flat and feeling over long.


“Iron Inferno” by C.L. Werner: Werner pleases, as usual, with this tale of orks and the mistake of trying to trick them using human standards. Werner address the ego-centric view that everything must think like us, while at the same time creating a tale without dialogue that thrills, is funny, and manages to do more for orks than any other book I have read on them.

X-Men: Legacy - Divided He Stands

Posted by Luke Forney on August 20, 2010 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

X-Men: Messiah CompleX changed a lot. The team’s old headquarters were destroyed, and they made a major move to a new home in Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand. However, even more changed for Professor X. His story is found in the newly-re-titled X-Men: Legacy, the first volume of which is X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands.


After what should have been a fatal injury at the end of Messiah CompleX, Xavier is on the brink of death when he is rescued by, of all people, the villain Exodus. Exodus uses his powers to repair Xavier’s broken body, but he needs the help of Xavier’s long-time friend and archenemy Magneto to repair Xavier’s fractured mind. And just as that situation seems to be resolved, Xavier discovers a dark secret buried in his past.


X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands contains: X-Men: Legacy #208 (“From Genesis to Revelations” ) , #209 (From Genesis to Revelations, Part Two” ) , #210 (“From Genesis to Revelations, Part Three” ) , #211 (“Sins of the Father, Part One” ) , #212 (“Sins of the Father, Part Two” ) .


While X-Men: Legacy isn’t the action fest that Uncanny X-Men is, Mike Carey’s story is incredibly gripping, as he weaves huge amounts of the X-Men’s and Xavier’s past into the story. Xavier’s quest to save his mind and rediscover his memories is one that leads to a lot of dark places in X-Men history, and each is explored in a wonderful tapestry that all fits back together into the frame narrative.


There is plenty of character exploration, and lots and background. The story is an excellent character piece about Xavier, and what he went through and accomplished as head of the X-Men, both good and bad. Solid work.


Things that might perturb readers: The story is definitely continuity-heavy, so some new readers may not get all of the references. This isn’t necessary to enjoy the story, but it may still bother some. Also, while all volumes of X-Men are part of a larger story, and those no true, definite “end” is ever there, the wrapping up of the current story provides that end piece. This volume ends mid story, so it isn’t the best for those looking for a one-and-done book.